Far From The Maddening Crowd

Picture the scene. We’ve just arrived in the beautiful hills of the Algarve for a much-longed for mini-break, settled down with a book in a secluded grassy spot away from the hustle and bustle of the pool area, perhaps looking forward to a quiet snooze… when all of a sudden a bunch of raucous Essex folk descend.

‘Babe, babe,’ shouts the korma-coloured woman in the bejewelled bikini, wheeling a pram. ‘There a good spot here. Get Dave.’

‘Daaasvvvvve,’ yells Babe. ‘Get Filipo to bring us four sun beds. And get the beers in!’

Larger-than-life Dave, who looks and sounds just like James Corden but with none of his affability and a belly the size of Mount Vesuvius, bellows for Filipo.

Filipo dutifully trots off and returns, trundling the loungers behind him. Despite being twice his size, larger-than-life Dave doesn’t offer to help but merely jabs a chubby finger to where he’d like his loungers – namely within 30cm from us.

We are surrounded.

‘Oh no,’ grumbles the husband, whose tolerance levels for loud people are generally much higher than mine. ‘TOWIE have arrived!’

We thought we were safe here. It wasn’t by accident that we ended up relaxing on this grassy knoll. After a tour of the available sunbathing spots at the hotel, this particular location was carefully chosen for its quiet ambience: a safe haven from the highly-populated pool area – a mass of reddening flesh and squawking pool splashers – yet with views of the surrounding hills and a soothing babble of water in the background. How wrong we were.

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This year has turned out less about The Battle of the Sunbeds (previously documented here and also here… oh, and here too – I’m clearly OBSESSED!) and more about The Battle to Eschew the Essex Crew.

‘Wouldn’t they be better in one of those cabanas down by the pool?’ I whisper. ‘They’d love it down there. Tell Dave!’

‘I’d even buy them a round,’ says the husband, as Filipo meekly scurries over with a tray of beers. ‘Just to get them out of earshot.’

‘Come this way, Dave,’ mimics the husband, in a soothing tone. ‘I’ve found you a lovely spot down by the lower pool, quite some way from here. I’ve even thrown in a bucket of Coronas!’

Larger-than-life Dave obliviously takes one sip of his beer and curls his lip.

‘Filipo,’ he booms. ‘Can I have another one of these but this time make it a cold one, would ya?’

Babe 1 appears to be grappling with a baby. ‘Babe,’ he says to Babe 2, holding up the baby and sniffing at its nappy. ‘Chantelle’s got a full package ‘ere.’

The husband lets out a long sigh.

That night, we decide to venture out of the Conrad compound and head to a restaurant recommended by a friend.

We ask the concierge for a taxi and – bizarrely – he offers to drive us himself. Before we know it, we are ushered into a luxury saloon and are soon purring down the immaculate driveway of the hotel, listening to the croon of Chris Martin.

‘The concierge certainly goes the extra mile – literally!’ I whispered to the husband. ‘Is this normal taxi rates or are we now paying for a private chauffeur?!’

‘No idea,’ says the husband. ‘But I like it!’

Quinta do Lago, famed for its golf courses, is like a colonised version of the Truman show: palatial homes peek from behind perfectly-pruned palm trees, while pearly-toothed families pound down pristine pavements. If it’s culture you’re after, you won’t find it here.

It’s very hot in Portugal and the husband appears to have a shortage of shorts: dressy shorts, that is – the kind of shorts you might wear to visit a restaurant of an evening, perhaps teamed with a pair of… (ultimate middle class horror)… loafers.

The husband has one pair of such dressy shorts; they are a light blue Reiss number and could stain easily, if he is not careful. He is under strict instruction to cover them with a napkin at all times.

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We arrive at the restaurant. It’s terribly refined and overlooks a picturesque lake. King of the pearly teeth Philip Schofield is on the table next to us, holding court with a group of TV exec types  – and a gaggle of girls straight out of Chelsea clink glasses opposite. Ex-footballer Graham Souness is apparently at the bar.

The husband orders a black cod broth. He takes one mouthful and somehow manages to douse his shorts in splodges of soy sauce.

‘Something bad has happened,’ grimaces the husband, peering down at his lap, the protective layer of his napkin nowhere to be seen.

‘How bad?’ I ask, craning my neck. ‘It it salvageable?!’

‘Really, really bad,’ says the husband, sliding his lower half further under the table. ‘It’s too distressing for you to even see.’

I throw my hands up in a signal of mock despair and as I do so, I somehow manage to knock a whole glass of wine straight into the husband’s lap, dousing his ill-fated shorts even further.

The husband gasps; waiters rush over… even Schofield stops his patter and turns to stare.

But it’s too late to save them.

I think the husband will be wearing trousers from here on.

The next day, I peer out of the window to check out the state of play on the grassy knoll. The Essex crew’s loungers from the previous day are still there, dominating our quiet spot. Those loungers had never been there previously, I note, but overnight Filipo has failed to move them back to wherever they had came from. This was troubling; Dave and co. had effectively SEEDED the area.

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‘I’m going to go down and bagsy our loungers,’ I tell the husband. ‘But I’m also going to move the additional loungers out of the way to discourage any further TOWIE invasion.’

‘Fine with me,’ says the husband. ‘But please let it be noted that this is not the behaviour of a sane person.’

I furtively scamper down to the pool area. By the time I have carted off six loungers (some double ones- who knew?!) and restored the grassy knoll to its original half crescent sunbed formation, I have worked up quite the sweat.

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‘All done,’ I say to the husband, who is patiently sitting at the breakfast table, engrossed in his book (Wonder by R.J Palacio).

I turn back just in time to see feeble Filipo wheeling the sun loungers BACK to where I had moved them from, with larger-than-life Dave swaggering brashly behind him.

‘There. Is. No. Escape,’ says the husband.

Groundhog Chalet

Help! The husband and I are trapped in a ski chalet in the middle of nowhere, forced to socialise with strangers for four nights.

It’s like a bad episode of Come Dine With Me meets Big Brother.

We did, of course, bring this all on ourselves. We should have done the sensible thing and booked into a hotel for our Easter getaway. I had managed to find a lovely hotel on the slopes; it came with an indoor swimming pool, roaring fires and a guarantee that we wouldn’t have to converse with any other guests.

However, I’d also been tempted by the last minute offer of a room in this remote chalet, which can only be accessed by James Bond-style skidoos (I’m a sucker for a gimmick). The owner said there was only four other people staying – a couple with their daughter and boyfriend. Could it really be that bad?

‘There’s two options for the mini-break,’ I told the husband. ‘We can stay in a relaxing ‘ski-in, ski-out’ hotel where we can sip a glass of Chablis by a crackling fire and read our books in peace – or we can plump for a chalet where we will probably be forced to make small talk with four other strangers every night.

‘Let’s try a chalet again,’ said the husband. ‘After all, how bad can it be? Let’s be honest,  they can’t be any worse than Carol and Martin.’

Oh yes, Carol and Martin. Our previous and only taste of chalet-cationing was with quite an eclectic mix of characters in January 2012.

They included: a pair of fun-seeking lads from Chorley, a man and wife from Birmingham with a 9-month old baby, a chain-smoking couple from Geneva, and our party-loving pals who we’d invited along (they also proved the perfect social shield when we inevitably sloped off the bed early).

And then there was Carol and her hen-pecked husband Martin. Carol was a preposterously posh, slightly-bonkers housewife, bordering on parody. She actually claimed – hilariously – to be working class yet lived in a 6-bedroom manor house in the middle of the country, skied about four times a year and sent her daughters to private school.  She wore her hair in strange, little-girl plaits and had a permanent look of disapproval about her. This might just be that she was unfortunate enough to have quite a long, banana-shaped face.

Carol was incredibly feeble and only seemed to managed a couple of hours on the slopes, before staggering back into the chalet and crying, ‘I think I need a large G and T urgently.’

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To be honest, Carol was quite fun dinner company for an evening or two but after several nights of her plummy drawl and constant references to her manor house back in Somerset, it started to get a bit wearing.

The husband and I developed a daft little obsession with Carol and Martin. After the holiday, the husband would occasionally cry ‘Carol’ to me in a silly psuedo-sexual voice and I’d breathily gush ‘Marrrtin’ back.

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So, three years on, it was with some trepidation that we finally arrived in Morzine on Thursday to be greeted by a young Philip Seymour Hoffman in a green Landrover (the skidoos unfortunately being out of action due to lack of snow). He really did look like the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. See evidence below:

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‘The other guests have already arrived,’ said Young Philip Seymour Hoffman, as the Landrover bumped and bounced us into the wilderness. ‘They’ve agreed to hold back dinner until you get here. They’re really looking forward to meeting you.’

‘Great!’ I squeaked, while simultaneously looking wide-eyed at the husband, and thinking, ‘this is far more intense than I ever imagined’.

‘WE MAY HAVE MADE A TERRIBLE MISTAKE.’

We pulled up to the chalet and the hostess was waving at us a little too keenly from the front door. All thoughts of sitting in solitude in the corner and reading my book were rapidly evaporating.

‘They’re here!’ cried intense hostess over her shoulder. She held out her outstretched hand. ‘Come on in.’

The other guests were sat cosily in a circle around the fire, two empty seats awaiting us. But as they rose to greet us, I froze in abject horror.

Two familiar faces – one particularly long and banana-shaped – were smiling politely back at us, without so much as a flicker of recognition.

‘Meet your fellow guests,’ said the intense hostess in her sing-song voice.

‘This is Carol and this is Martin.’

In Da Club

Playground of the rich, metropolis of the future, and home – it seems – to half the population of Essex… Welcome to Dubai.

Where there’s sun and money, the C-list schlebs will follow. Fame-hungry Abbey Clancy’s on the beach over yonder straddling a camel and posing for the paps, and pearly-toothed Mark Wright (whoever he is) is busy filling his boots at the free hotel buffet.

Basically, our hotel has become the setting for an entire episode of TOWIE.

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Getting some winter sun comes at a high price. Surrounded by cranes, skyscrapers and garish opulence, the husband put it like this: ‘It’s basically Disneyland in the desert. But instead of Mickey Mouse on the prowl you’ve got fake sheikhs on the take.’

Seriously though, we are very happy here sipping ruinously-expensive cocktails, lapping up the rays and reading our books, save for an annoying man next to us whose mobile appears to be surgically attached to his ear. His latest call was to Carl Cox.

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‘Alright Coxy,’ he bleated in a Jonathan Ross voice. I was surprised he could speak at all given the mouthfuls of food he was shovelling in in a most slovenly manner. (Seriously, eating lunch on your sunbed – is there no decorum left?) ‘I’ve told them it’s £150,000 for a four-hour set. They’re getting back to me.’

Hot on the heels of bumping into some parents from school (‘What are the chances?’), the husband then decided that there might be someone he knows reclining on the sun lounger behind us.

‘Take a long look at him and report back,’ said the husband, in hushed tones.

‘Thinning grey hair, rather challenged around the waistline, looks just like the old dude off Ray Donovan,’ I said, covertly peering from behind my shades.

‘Thats him!’ said the husband. ‘Let’s hide.’

There’s been a lot of talk from the husband of what to do on New Year’s Eve.

If it was up to me, I’d be tucked up watching the final episode of Homeland in my new cashmere bed socks, perhaps taking an occasional glance at the fireworks through the window.

This option, however, has been vetoed by the husband, who appears to have succumbed to the age-old pressure of What To Do On New Year’s Eve.

This might mean we are forced to spend an obscene amount of money on a set menu in one of Dubai’s fine eateries. Naturally, I’m doing everything in my power to stop this.

Our hotel, which lurks in the shadow of the Dubai Mall – a great sprawling behemoth of consumerism – has published a handy guide on what to do for New Year’s Eve.

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Every restaurant in the vicinity has a minimum entry fee and, worse still, you have to be there by 4pm at the latest! That’s eight hours of wining and dining before the chords of Auld Lang Syne even strike up. I was having palpatations just thinking about it.

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I idly flicked through the booklet. Carluccios had a set menu for AED 625 (about £125), TGI Fridays were charging a staggering £300, Fortnum and Mason were a snip at around £200, and Starbucks were charging £100.

Wait… Starbucks?! Home to overpriced wishy-washy coffee. What could possibly be on this £100 set menu? Stale blueberry muffin for starters, anaemic mozzarella panini for the main, and one of those sickly caramel waffles for dessert – all washed down with a tepid milky latte?

Luckily, fate has intervened… in the form of The Club. The Club is a newly-discovered lounge in our hotel which serves up FREE afternoon tea, FREE snacks 24-7, and FREE food and drinks by night.

Note the emphasis on free. In a city where you have to sell a kidney to buy a gin and tonic, this is quite remarkable.

The husband and I made our first trip to The Club last night and enjoyed champagne cocktails and chilled glasses of Sauvignon – all on the house.

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All around us people were hungrily slurping their free drinks and tucking into the rather sizeable buffet. A man in scruffy tracksuit bottoms and a t-shirt shuffled past, plate piled high.

‘Look at that,’ I whispered. ‘These people aren’t even bothering to change out of their slobs. They’re just here for the free food and drink!’

‘That’s Mark Wright from TOWIE,’ said the husband, who to my knowledge has never watched an episode of reality TV in his life.

‘He’s really big news’.

As if on cue, a gaggle of tipsy women raised their Cosmpolitons and chorused, ‘Hi Mark’ in unison as he passed.

‘Never heard of him,’ I said.

‘Here’s the plan,’ I told the sceptical husband. ‘We come to The Club for New Year’s Eve. We’ll gorge on the buffet, quaff the champers and watch the fireworks from the balcony. And best of all, it won’t cost us a penny!’

‘There’s just one problem,’ said the husband.

‘I’ve already booked Starbucks.’

Sardines On A Sunbed

‘I just want to walk into a hotel lobby and be anonymous,’ grumbled the husband.

We are on the penultimate day of our holiday in Sóller, Majorca. And the owner of the little boutique hotel where we are staying seems to be taking an overly-keen interest in our movements.

Everytime we walk past reception, he collars the husband to rhapsodize about the weather, England, the weather again, the restaurant we are planning on going to, even the clothes he is wearing.

The owner – Matthew – is actually a very nice man. But his very hands-on approach to hoteliering is making the husband on edge.

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Despite the beautiful room here, we have begun to long for the relative relaxation and anonymity of the finca in the hills, where we resided for the first part of our stay.

The owner Marc might have had a fixation with serving gallons of coffee at breakfast and an over-inflated sense of what his bottles of diminutive water were worth, but because he was slightly autistic he left us largely to our own devices.

Before we left the finca, we also developed a mild obsession with a gravelly-voiced waiter there, who we fondly named Barry White. Barry had a most intriguing, soothing croon, as he cleared the table and served our food. I tried to get a bit of video footage of his strange baritone rumble but I’m not sure it does him justice.

Back in Sóller, I have developed hives. My skin has a tendency to go berserk when faced with too much sun, stress, the wrong food, wrong washing powder – or over-earnest hoteliers. I spent three days itching myself to madness before seeking help.

Luckily, there is a little old lady up the road who may or may not be masquerading as a pharmacist. To attract her attention, you need to ring a bell and she appears from behind a grill to deal with one’s ailments.

We asked for some anti-histamines; she disappeared for a while and then a little hand shot out to hand over the medication and take our money. It was ace.

We became so taken with the little old lady that we have been trying to think up new illnesses – just so we can visit her again. Here I am next to her metal grill and buzzer. When passing tourists saw me having my picture taken, they started snapping away too, convinced the hidden pharmacy was some sort of historic attraction.

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Over in Puerto de Sóller, we attempted to dine at one of the restaurants my coffee shop friend Malcolm recommended. It was full.

I don’t have the heart to tell Malcolm we didn’t end up eating there so I have memorised the menu (‘the rabbit and onions was sublime!’) and snapped the husband posing outside, as photographic proof of our visit.

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The sunbed situation at the current hotel isn’t quite the all-out battle to bag the best bed of previous years. Instead, there’s more underground tactics at work.

Put simply, the pool area is quite small and only about four sunbeds get the sun past 4pm. This means that there’s a secret bed-hopping war at play, in an attempt to secure the best beds at different stages of the day. As a seasoned sunbed bagger, I’m on it.

But at 4pm, people all begin to drag their sunbeds towards the dying rays, creating a sardine-like squash in one corner of the pool (spot the lonesome husband!).

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Owner Matthew prides himself on setting out purple towels throughout the whole pool area (he told us this in great detail) so it’s difficult to ascertain which beds are in use or have been used, having to rely a rudimentary towel ‘crumple test’.

It did make me wonder how Matthew knew which towels to change at the end of the day.

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It was only on Day 2 of our stay here that I uncovered a startling revelation: Matthew DOESN’T change the towels!

Unbeknown to him, I was stealthily spying on Matthew from the behind my copy of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, as the last vestiges of the vermillion sun dipped behind the mountains. Rather than whipping the used towels off the loungers, he merely smoothed them out with a deft flick of the hand.

This means that right now, I am probably lying in the sweat of that meaty man from Room 3.

When we returned from lunch today, chomping on ice creams, jittery Matthew was grinning expectantly from behind his reception desk.

‘Ice-cream!’ he exclaimed, a little too enthusiastically. ‘May I ask where you pur-chase-d your gelato?’

‘I just want to eat my ice-cream in peace,’ muttered the husband, as we returned to our squashed and sweaty sunbeds.

‘Get me back to Barry White… Get me back to the finca!’

The Water In Majorca Don’t Cost Like It Oughta

After a very cool pool party for my friend’s 40th, which involved plenty of poolside posturing, a private pirate ship and unprecedented amounts of Prosecco in Palma, we are now holed up at a ‘relaxing’ finca in the Majorcan hills.

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It’s very quiet here and there’s not much people-watching to be had.  I’m a little bored. The pool is deathly empty and the air almost still, save for the annoying growl of a nearby generator, which rumbles noisily every 10 minutes – and the occasional buzz of a large and terrifying black bumble bee, which has me leaping dramatically from my lounger every time it buzzes too near.

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Luckily, there’s a slightly eccentric owner to keep us entertained. I think his name is Marc and he has a peculiar English accent – very much Manuel from Fawlty Towers. He answers ‘yayssss’ to everything you ask him.

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His day seems to revolve around two obsessions: the first being where his guests have had enough coffee. This morning, he circled the tables in the quaint courtyard like a persistent pigeon, clutching his large jug of coffee, and calling, ‘Coffee? coffee?’ on repeat. He asked me whether I wanted coffee at least three times this morning and each time I answered ‘no, thank you’. I suspect it’s going to become the soundtrack to our mornings here.

Manuel’s other preoccupation is whether we have set the alarm in our room for ‘security purposes’. Apparently, whenever we leave the room, we should input a convoluted series of letters and numbers (which he proudly presented to us at check-in in a sealed envelope).

He even advised us to set the alarm while we were sleeping! Presumably, this is in case a band of robbers feel the urge to drive miles into the Majorcan hills, smash down our patio doors and steal our suncream. Still, his preoccupation with ‘zee alarm’ is making me feel slightly anxious.

The small smattering of other guests all seem a little bit dull. I think I spotted a Panama hat earlier but it didn’t amount to much. Many of the guests come here to hike the hills, apparently. It’s chill out at it most chilled but I’m beginning to feel quite restless. The husband, on the other hand, seems quite content, immersing himself in a political thriller amid bouts of languid snoozing.

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The downside to staying several miles away from civilisation (apart from obvious first world problems like weak wifi and lukewarm lattes) is that I begin to worry about my water consumption. When we drove up here last night, we foolishly failed to stop at the local Lidl and stock up on several gallons of water.

This means that we are now forced to sip on tiny bottles of water from our minibar at €2.50 a pop. For someone who consumes more water than your average camel, this is proving to be a very expensive basic human need indeed.

Having to dip into any minibar goes against everything I’ve been taught about staying at hotels, rule no 1 being: NEVER touch the minibar, so it is with a certain degree of reluctance that I’ve been forced to hydrate myself this way.

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Scanning the pool for potential characters, my eyes fell upon a fridge in the corner. I ambled over and whipped out two of their meagre 33cl bottles of water, handing one to the husband. A couple of gulps later and it was gone.

‘There’s no way I’m paying €2.50 for that,’ I said, already starting to panic about where my next source of water was coming from.

‘But it’s an honesty bar,’ said the husband, looking askance. ‘And stealing water from it is the height of dishonesty.’

‘Okay,’ I said. ‘I’m willing to negotiate on a ‘buy one, get one free’ deal; I’ll write down that we had one bottle of water. And that’s being generous!’

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‘How about a 3 for 2 deal, like Boots?’ said the husband.

‘Fair enough,’ I said.

I pottered back over but I couldn’t find a pen. I gave up and headed back to the lounger.

‘I’ve been giving it some more thought,’ said the husband, clearly warming to this new life of criminality. ‘Those overpriced bottles of water are actually comically small; they wouldn’t hydrate a mouse.

‘Let’s come back in the dead of night and grab as many bottles as we can.’

Time And Tide Wait For No Man

It’s the annual family excursion to Cornwall and we are back in our rented house opposite Dawn French’s gothic mansion. But alas! After last year’s ‘Dawn Watch‘, well-placed sources inform us that Dawn is currently on a world tour of her stand-up show.

Still, this does not stop my father training his binoculars on her house every five minutes – ever hopeful that the cheery comedienne might make an appearance.

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Luckily, there’s plenty of other fixations to keep the parents happy. Namely, my father’s new boat. I say ‘boat’ but really its a souped-up dinghy – the type of inflatable that one might use to get from one’s yacht into the harbour (for my father, the dinghy IS his yacht. See previous blog here).

In fact, the husband and I have been known to disembark the dinghy and wave vaguely at a fancy vessel in the distance, on the pretence that we’ve just popped ashore on our tender.

So, my father finally invested in a new dinghy this summer – after spending six months meticulously checking out potential boats in a shop in Garstang. On his fifth visit, he finally decided to commit to the purchase (much to the weary shopkeeper’s relief).

Let me introduce… Chrismick III (and a rather ungainly image of the husband’s backside).

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One might think that this would mean that original Chrismick I (purchased in 1973, gnawed by mice in the garage, and covered in puncture patches) and Chrismick II (purchased circa 1985, world’s most well-travelled dinghy, and part of many a childhood adventure) might have been resigned to the scrap heap.

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But, oh no, father is now smugly driving around with not one but TWO boats folded into the boot of his car, while Chrismick I languishes in the garage at home – per chance it might be called upon to sail the seas once again (in the unlikely event that the parents should ever require the use of three dinghies simultaneously).

As we cruise down the River Fowey on board Chrismick III, my mother likes to recite a series of her favourite stories: the time her and my father got stranded in Polperro when a drunk ferryman never returned to collect them; how the trees down the river used to be covered in white China clay from the huge ships that entered the estuary; the time my father ambitiously headed out to sea in Chrismick I, where ferocious waves lapped over the dinghy and she was forced to frantically bail out water with a milk carton.

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Another of the parents’ favourite hobby horses is tide times. My father has an unhealthy pre-occupation with the tide and studies his tide times book several times a day. When the tide is coming in, it’s possible to travel all the way up the Fowey estuary to Lerryn and Lostwithiel – as long as you’re in a small boat. (No problem there!)

My mother has a series of oft-used phrases to explain tide times, such as, ‘it was like someone had pulled the plug out!’ and, ‘it was nothing but mud flats!’. The parents occasionally like to run the gauntlet with the tide, claiming it’s all part of the fun. Nothing pleases my father more than chugging up to Lerryn, having a pint in the The Ship Inn and racing the tide back to Fowey again (following the route of the channel on his special Ordnance survey map)

On one such visit to Lerryn this week, my father was delighted to find it was an extra special Spring tide, meaning the car park was flooded and water was lapping rather worryingly at the front doors of some of the pretty cottages lining the river.

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There’s also a little bridge going into the village of Golant; at high tide the gap between the bottom of the bridge and the top of the water is pretty slim. Everyone has to duck on the count of three. It’s all part of the fun.

The Fowey Hotel is a slightly down-at-heel Victorian residence teetering grandly on the cliff above the estuary. I have fond memories of enjoying cream teas on the lawn there during those endless childhood summers where there was never a cloud in the sky.

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The parents first visited the Fowey Hotel in 1973, after a friend recommended it to them. In those pre-internet days, they simply drove down to Fowey, having no idea what it would be like.

They were so taken with the Fowey Hotel and the area in general, a love affair was born. They even sent my grandparents down the following summer.

But after driving 350 miles, my grandfather arrived to find the Fowey Hotel had closed down and all the furniture was being auctioned off!

Luckily, it re-opened sometime in the late 80s/ early 90s (with a much higher-price tag) and though in latter years my parents couldn’t afford to stay there, they would check-in to strange Keith’s B&B on the road above and visit the bar each evening for their supper.

Now, the parents love nothing more than having a drink in one of the large windows, as they reminisce and watch the boats come and go from the harbour below.

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As time has gone on, I’ve grown to love the Fowey Hotel too. Not least because of its air of slightly naff old world glamour, the rattling original period lift and framed yellowing letters from Kenneth Grahame to his son (he reportedly wrote Wind in the Willows at the hotel) in the lobby, and the seemingly never-ending stream of quirky guests.

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On leaving day today, my mother pushed the button on one final obsession: the need to eat up everything in the house.

As the daughter of a post-war disciplinarian, she simply can’t bring herself to throw any food away. Last year, she was left with a tub of margarine that hadn’t been fully consumed and she actually toyed with the idea of buying some bread just to ‘use it up’.

This morning, my mother managed to empty the fridge, save for a pint of milk: first, she forced my Uncle Stephen to drink a glass. She then drowned my father’s Weetabix in twice the normal amount, and stood hovering nearby, desperate to whip the bowl and spoon off him to wash it up.

Satisfied that the milk was gone, the cupboards were bare, and the ‘boats’ were safely packed back in the car boot, it was time to bid farewell to beloved Fowey for another year.

 

Cocoon’d in Madeira

Eyes down for a full house! We’re on a pensioners’ vacation in Madeira.

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When I mentioned I’d booked an Easter break to Madeira, I couldn’t find a single soul who had holidayed here. Friends’ reactions varied from polite curiosity, open-jawed incredulity, and the no-holds barred, ‘WTF? Isn’t that where all the old biddies go?’

To be fair, the reviews for our hotel read a little something like this… ‘Having just recovered from a heart attack, a trip to the Cliff Bay was just the tonic…’ and ‘Cliff Bay was the perfect place to celebrate our Golden Wedding Anniversary…’.

Great, I thought, there’ll be no rowdy horse-play around the pool, no blaring bar music and the ageing residents – me included – will be tucked up in bed by 10pm. It sounded like my kind of holiday.

The husband was also wholly underwhelmed by news of the impending excursion.

To be fair, I did book it on a whim while he was busy lording it up – P Diddy style – on a ‘business’ trip to Miami, in what is purported to be the city’s trendiest hotel (the Fontain Bleu, for those interested). To a Miami socialite, Madeira is a bit of a step down.

In a final attempt to prove Madeira wasn’t just for the over 60s, I Wikipediaed the capital Funchal, where we were staying.

One statement stood out above the rest: ‘Madeira has drawn ailing visitors since the 19th Century. Many were so ill that they never made it home; they are buried in Funchal’s unassuming British cemetery.’

Jesus.

So it was with some misgivings that the husband and I boarded the flight to Funchal. As we suspected, there was a sea of grey heads stretching as far as the eye could see.

The flight itself was a very civilised affair. Large queues for the toilets admittedly, but lots of friendly, smiling elders (and not a lager lout in sight).

And when the captain announced that there was no charge for the trolleys at the airport, there was a collective ripple of approval from the silver-haired masses.

It was a seamless glide through baggage collection and a pleasant taxi ride to our hotel. Madeira was as pretty as you’d imagine: terracotta-roofed villas dotted the lush green landscape and as the taxi wove down the steep hills, the Atlantic sparked alluringly in the distance.

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We decided to take an evening stroll along the promenade. Due to its influx of the more mature visitor, the island had an unhurried and relaxed feel to it – a stark contrast to our usual frenetic lives.

As we trundled past many golden oldies with their walking sticks, we spotted a man unzipping the bottom portion of his trousers to turn them into shorts. I privately thought this was quite an ingenious idea.

‘If I ever wear shorts with zip off leg bits or open-toed sandals with or without socks, shoot me on the spot,’ said the husband.

‘One day, we’ll be old too,’ I mused.

‘We will,’ the husband agreed. ‘But I still won’t ever wear open-toed sandals. I will retain my keen aesthetic eye.’

Back at the hotel room, I weighed up our rather large bed.

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At first glance, it appeared to be a super king – in fact bigger than super king (uber king?!) But on closer inspection, I realised it was in fact two large single beds, each with their own separate sheets.

This meant an end to the husband hogging the duvet, digs from stray limbs in the night, or in-your-ear snoring… Here was the future of slumber. And I liked it.

Next door to our hotel, perched atop the hillside was the grand dame itself, Reid’s Palace – former holiday residence of Winston Churchill, no less. Visiting it for drinks one evening, I instantly fell in love.

Black and white photographs adorned the grand tiled entrance and the cocktail lounge was straight out of Mad Men. There was even a bridge room!

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The clientele were nearly as old as the walls themselves: all Panama hats and cream suits, sipping Martinis with shaky hands, while haughty waiters circled officiously. It was timeless elegance and OTT pomposity at its finest. I felt like I’d stepped back into the 50s.

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Romanticism aside, there’s another advantage to being on a senior citizen’s break: no need to rise at the crack of dawn to seize a sunbed (see last year’s Battle Of The Sun Beds in Croatia).

The elderly, it seems (with the exception of the occasional sun-baked wrinkly) prefer to seek shade, rather than bask in the Portuguese sun. By midday, there was still a bountiful supply of available loungers. The gym was virtually empty too.

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I lay on my sunbed for a couple of hours. There wasn’t a soul around. I started to get bored.

I missed people-watching; the occasional booming bronze-bellied buffoon to chuckle at (see The Ghost of Holidays Past)… Hell, I even missed the race to secure the most coveted sun-lounger.

I was on a Saga holiday and I wanted a saga.

‘It’s too quiet,’ I groaned, prodding the husband with my big toe.

The husband merely gave a sanctimonious smile, popped his headphones in, and closed his eyes.

He was only one step away from a pair of open-toed sandals.